ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — At Melrose Market, the windows facing the street were decorated with American flags and a sign that read: "Thank you and Welcome Home Sgt. Dominick Licari." Organizations and business owners along Route 5 posted signs in Licari's honor Friday.
The World War II airman died in combat almost 70 years ago in the South Pacific, but his remains were only recently identified. Finally, at just after 9 p.m., he returned home to Frankfort, 70 miles west of Albany.
"We just thought it would be a nice tribute for him for giving his life for our country," said grocery store owner Linda LaValla. "It's good to know that they take the time years later to find our servicemen and bring them home. It's closure for everybody."
Veterans' groups, businesses and residents along a 10-mile stretch of New York's Mohawk Valley paid tribute to Licari. Honor guards from Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters were posted along Route 5 as the vehicle procession carrying his casket left the New York State Thruway at Little Falls and traveled to Frankfort, funeral director Vincent Iocovozzi told The Associated Press.
A commercial flight carrying his casket arrived at the Albany airport and military pall bearers carried the casket from the plane to the hearse Friday evening, Iocovozzi said. Licari's brother, sister and several nieces and nephews were at the airport to accompany his casket back home, with the Patriot Guard motorcycle riders providing an escort, the funeral director said.
"There's only one word that describes this: unbelievable," said Iocovozzi as he arrived in Frankfort with Licari's remains. He said hundreds of people lined the streets waving flags, crying and holding signs as they made the journey to the funeral home.
"He's a man who has been dead longer than most people have been alive, but he's a hero coming home," he said.
Licari was a 31-year-old gunner aboard a two-man Army Air Force A-20 Havoc bomber that crashed into a mountain in Papua New Guinea on March 13, 1944, while returning from a bombing raid on a Japanese airfield. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Valorie Pollard of Monterey, Calif., also was killed, along with four airmen in two of the mission's other A-20s that slammed into the same jungle-covered mountain in bad weather.
Licari, one of nine children in his family, was officially declared dead in 1946. Last month, U.S. military officials notified his two surviving siblings that his remains and those of Pollard were found and identified. Licari's funeral and burial with full military honors are set for Tuesday in Frankfort.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed lowering flags on state government buildings to half-staff on Tuesday to honor Licari.
Pollard's burial arrangements are still pending, Pentagon official said.
News of Licari's remains and their impending return to Frankfort has stirred emotions in his hometown and other nearby mill towns lining the western end of the Mohawk River. Veterans, firefighters, law enforcement officers and local residents planned to line Route 5 and salute his procession, said Iocovozzi, a distant relative of the Licari family.
"It just brings tears to your eyes," Iocovozzi said after arriving in Frankfort.